Military leaders are frequently in the public eye. They appear as guests on news shows and comment on political issues (a recent example here), they give speeches at universities (a recent example at Sven’s university here), and they meet with elites across the country. Indeed, this list of speeches and remarks by General John Shalikashvili while Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff shows just how much exposure top leaders get.
But is this a good thing?
One could argue that this public engagement is actually good because it provides an educative function for the public and allows the military perspective to be heard by the ultimate principals in a democratic society (the people).
However, it might not be a good thing for military leaders to enter the political ring and be active participants in battles about essentially political issues/questions given that their expertise and authority is only in the very specific application of physical violence. Moreover, active engagement in politics may erode or threaten proper civilian dominance of civil-military relations in a democracy. It may also lead people to consider the military as just another political actor and thus to discount the advice of military leaders on those matters for which they are experts and ought to be heard as objective advisers. Indeed, these are only a few reasons such activity might be problematic.
So, perhaps the military should take a cue from economist Arthur Burns when he was at the Council of Economic Advisers. According to one speech given at his memorial service and published by the AEI under the title Arthur Burns:
The council’s economic analysis was widely regarded as poor in quality and as slanted to fit the policy preconceptions of the chairman. From the outset, Arthur determined to change both the image and the activities of the council. He set himself the task of converting the council into a source of objective information and analysis of economic options for the President. Toward that end, he adopted a policy of refusing to make any public statements in his capacity as chairman. He refused to appear on television programs or to give radio interviews. Indeed, he went so far as to refuse to testify before the Congress except in executive session. He insisted that he was an adviser to the President and not an independent operator on the political scene.